I want to write a sweeping article about my trip to Guatemala. I want to describe the brightly dressed women who balance large vibrant cloth bundles on their heads. I want to talk about the lush green vegetation and the cobblestone streets. I want to paint pictures in your mind of one room homes with dirt floors and walls of corrugated metal that pepper the landscape. I want to write about poverty, sponsorship, the work Compassion International does, the Child Development Centers they establish through local churches, and how the Jesus is the cornerstone of all they do. I want to talk about how the people working there know the kids personally and are their neighbors, pastors, and friends.
There is so much I want to share.
But, like subject of poverty itself, I will most likely end up overwhelming you.
Instead, I’ll simply tell you about Leidy.
She’s 12 years old and lives in a rural part of Guatemala. She has long, thick brown hair that she keeps in a pony tail with clips and a rubber band. Her eyes are brown islands of sincere warmth mixed with just the slightest touch of hesitation. She’s got dimples that show up only when her sweet smile stretches wide enough.
Compassion International arranged a day for me to meet this sweet girl whom I’d only seen in a single photo. Blessedly, they provided an interpreter who would be with us. (My Spanish is both painful and limited.) I’m pretty sure Leidy and I were equally nervous about our meeting. What would we talk about? How would we spend our time? I really wanted her to like me. I felt as nervous as a fourth grader on the first day at a new school.
She was dressed in a dark skirt and bright orange blouse with a colorful belt to match; traditional Guatemalan dress that is both dignified and celebratory. Her shoes were unscuffed, black patent leather shoes that sparkled in the dust. I told her how much I liked her outfit. She told me she and her mother purchased it just for today; just for me.
She was shy and although our interpreter was wonderful, Leidy didn’t initiate a lot of conversation. I can’t blame her for that. Here I was, orange hair and white skin, trying to speak terrible Spanish and asking her random questions. Even so, she held my gaze and answered my questions thoughtfully and thoroughly. She smiled often; her brown eyes were warm and sweet and communicated more than words anyway. We didn’t need to say much. The simple act of sitting together and eating lunch was filling for us both.
We had a delightful afternoon together. We walked and talked and learned about one another. She wants to be a hairdresser when she grows up. She likes to play soccer and visits with her cousins every day. She likes math too. I explained to her that I was terrible at math and would need her help in the near future. We both laughed.
We also shared comfortable times of silence. I loved that Leidy didn’t feel the need to fill up all the space between us; neither did I. The companionship was evident. We didn’t need to burden it with unnatural over-talking.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to sponsor a young girl on the edge of adulthood. One whose choices in life would be reduced quickly without intervention. When I saw Leidy’s photograph, I was smitten. She was the one. I knew from Leidy’s profile that she lives with her mother, attends school, and that she is in good health.
But visiting her allowed me to witness facets of her life, her family, and her personality that painted a clearer, more robust image of her personhood. Surrounded by the verdant environment of Guatemala, looking out at the towering volcanoes and incomprehensible stretches of trees, I had the privilege of seeing the same things Leidy sees every day. It’s not exactly standing in her shoes, but it’s as close as I can get.
It’s a really big place, this world of ours. Even with all the ways we can stay connected, it’s a difficult thing to experience one another’s realness. Sometimes, to avoid getting overwhelmed by people, circumstances and feelings, it’s easier to see one another as a photograph, a profile, or a quick tag line. But our deepest need as human beings is connection. We cannot experience that without treating one another as real; complex, beautiful, and worthy of love, understanding, dignity and care.
Compassion International gave me a glimpse into how they make poverty real. They don’t do it with guilt trips, horrifying images, or shaming messages to potential donors. They make poverty real by introducing us to children who are vibrant and active and are loved by their parents, but need a bit of help to grow into healthy, flourishing adults. They offer stories of hope and change and tremendous joy. They offer us the opportunity to meet children like Leidy; delightful, dignified, and beautifully created by God to bring light into this world.
Moreover, Compassion International shows children that love and Jesus are real too. Through a wholistic approach that addresses spiritual, physical, social, educational and emotional needs, they demonstrate to kids that they are worthy of being singled out, seen, and cared for. They believe in the one-to-one approach to sponsorship: one sponsor connected to one child makes the most impact. It makes perfect sense to me.
We all need a few people in our lives who remind us that we are real. I’m so honored to help do that for Leidy. In the process of sponsoring her, I remember that I too, need to feel real; known and loved and seen by those around me.
She has brown eyes and a sweet smile and she lives 3,000 miles away. And I love her.
To sponsor a child like Leidy, click on the link below. By using this particular link, you are letting Compassion International and me know that Leidy's story impacted you. Thank you for reaching out and rescuing a child from poverty in the name of Jesus. I can't think of anything better to do with $38 a month.